The Problem of Friendflation

In a previous entry about the problems of social networks I pondered but never explicitly discussed one of the more serious issues confronting the members of any of the social networks. The problem is...

Friendflation -- a persistently increasing surfeit of acquaintances and strangers errantly labeled as friends in any of your online social networks such as LinkedIn, Friendster, etc. Friendflation is caused by failing to tell strangers "no" when they ask to join your online social network.

Years of playground conditioning have taught us that it is rude to deny requests to join our social networks. If a kid comes up to us and asks "Wanna be friends?" The answer is "yes" even if they are covered with bugs and smell like they just rolled out of a dumpster. We say "yes" because we don't want to hurt their feelings. Are are also buttressed by the fact that we know that if we are careful, we can make sure that we never encounter our new friend again.

Online networks present the problem with a new level of persistence. Once you accept this new friend in the online world you can't really avoid them. The internet is a big place and an instantly connected place. Every time you log on, your new "friend" knows you are there. Denying the original request wasn't much of an option. Who wants to see the frowny character :( on their screen?

Finding ourselves without options, we exhale deeply and then press the ACCEPT button.

Friendflation shares a nasty attribute with real world inflation -- without proper management, it naturally tends to escalate. The more people you know, the cooler it is to know you. The cooler it is to know you, the more people will send you requests to join your network. If you don't take steps to limit the problem, you will soon have full blown friendflation and dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of online strangers labeled as friends.

So, what to do? Enjoy it -- I guess. Personally I never ask anyone to join my network unless I have had sufficient contact with them to think that they will understand why we might want to join networks. If someone asks to join my network, I rely on my "be nice to the other kids at school" training and accept the request.

I do draw some definitive boundaries around my professional network, however, and those rules have served me well. If someone in my professional network wants to meet someone else in that network, as often happens via LinkedIn, I do not allow those connections willy-nilly. I either vet the connection or offer to facilitate it. This usually means that I do not pass along rough-hewn sales pitches, and to those requests for introductions that I think might have merit, I respond with something like "let's all meet for coffee one day." This makes sure that only the serious requesters make the connection, and I do not end up wasting valuable time for my valued fellow professionals and work associates. The system works for me.

Next Steps:

  • Evaluate the available online social networks. Join the ones that are right for you.

  • Formulate your own personal policy on how to handle network requests before the problem resents itself.

  • Join one of Phil's networks. (You needn't fear rejection.)

Networks I find valuable:

Professional: LinkedIn, Plaxo
Personal: Yahoo 360 (evaluating)

Friendflation: @

About Phil Yanov

Phil Yanov is a Technologist, Columnist and Public Radio Commentator.

He is the founder of Tech After Five as well as the founder and President of the GSA Technology Council and the IT Leadership Council.

His personal technology column appears in Greenville Business Magazine and the Columbia Business Journal.

He co-hosts the Your Day technology shows heard on NPR radio stations across South Carolina and is a frequent contributor to technology stories appearing on radio and television.